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Midwest tornadoes cause severe damage in Omaha suburbs

Gopala Penmetsa walks past his house after it was leveled by a tornado near Omaha, Neb., on Friday.
Chris Machian
/
Omaha World-Herald via AP
Gopala Penmetsa walks past his house after it was leveled by a tornado near Omaha, Neb., on Friday.

Updated April 26, 2024 at 8:50 PM ET

OMAHA, Neb. — A tornado plowed through suburban Omaha, Nebraska, on Friday afternoon, damaging hundreds of homes and other structures as the twister tore for miles along farmland and into subdivisions. Injuries were reported but it wasn't yet clear if anyone was killed in the storm.

Multiple tornadoes were reported in Nebraska but the most destructive storm moved from a largely rural area into suburbs northwest of Omaha, a city of 485,000 people.

Photos on social media showed heavily damaged homes and shredded trees. Video showed homes with roofs stripped of shingles, in a rural area near Omaha. Law enforcement were blocking off roads in the area.

Hundreds of houses sustained damage in Omaha, mostly in the Elkhorn area in the western part of the city, police Lt. Neal Bonacci said.

Police and firefighters are now going door-to-door helping people who are trapped.

Omaha Fire Chief Kathy Bossman said crews had gone to the "hardest hit area" and had a plan to search anywhere someone could be trapped.

"They're going to be putting together a strategic plan for a detailed search of the area, starting with the properties with most damage," Bossman said. "We'll be looking throughout properties in debris piles, we'll be looking in basements, trying to find any victims and make sure everybody is rescued who needs assistance."

Damaged houses are seen after a tornado passed through the area near Omaha, Neb., on Friday.
Chris Machian / Omaha World-Herald via AP
/
Omaha World-Herald via AP
Damaged houses are seen after a tornado passed through the area near Omaha, Neb., on Friday.

Omaha police Lt. Neal Bonacci said many homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

"You definitely see the path of the tornado," Bonacci said.

In one area of Elkhorn, dozens of newly built, large homes were damaged. At least six were destroyed, including one that was leveled, while others had the top half ripped off.

There were dozens of emergency vehicles in the area.

"We watched it touch down like 200 yards over there and then we took shelter," said Pat Woods, who lives in Elkhorn. "We could hear it coming through. When we came up our fence was gone and we looked to the northwest and the whole neighborhood's gone."

His wife, Kim Woods added, "The whole neighborhood just to the north of us is pretty flattened."

Dhaval Naik, who said he works with the man whose house was demolished, said three people, including a child, were in the basement when the tornado hit. They got out safely.

KETV-TV video showed one woman being removed from a demolished home on a stretcher in Blair, a city just north of Omaha.

Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said there appeared to be few serious injuries, in part because people had plenty of warning that storms were likely.

"We not upon by a sudden storm," Schmaderer said. "People had warnings of this and that saved lives."

The tornado warning was issued in the Omaha area on Friday afternoon just as children were due to be released from school. Many schools had students shelter in place until the storm passed. Hours later, buses were still transporting students home.

Another tornado hit an area on the eastern edge of Omaha, passing directly through parts of Eppley Airfield, the city's airport. Officials closed the airport to aircraft operations to access damage but then reopened the facility, Omaha Airport Authority Chief Strategy Officer Steve McCoy said.

Severe weather damage to Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Neb., can be seen from the Lewis and Clark Monument in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Friday
Anna Reed / Omaha World-Herald via AP
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Omaha World-Herald via AP
Severe weather damage to Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Neb., can be seen from the Lewis and Clark Monument in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Friday

The passenger terminal wasn't hit by the tornado but people rushed to storm shelters until the twister passed, McCoy said.

Flight delays are expected Friday evening.

After passing through the airport, the tornado crossed the Missouri River and into Iowa, north of Council Bluffs.

Nebraska Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Katrina Sperl said damage is just now being reported. Taylor Wilson, a spokesperson for the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said they hadn't seen any injuries yet.

Before the tornado hit the Omaha area, three workers in an industrial plant were injured Friday afternoon when a tornado struck an industrial plant in Lancaster County, sheriff's officials said in an update on the damage.

The building just northeast of the state capital of Lincoln had collapsed with about 70 employees inside and several people trapped, sheriff's officials said. Everyone was evacuated, and three people had injuries that were considered not life-threatening, authorities said.

Sheriff's officials say they also had reports of a tipped-over train near Waverly, also in Lancaster County.

Two people who were injured when the tornado passed through Lancaster County were being treated at the trauma center at Bryan Medical Center West Campus in Lincoln, the facility said in a news release. It said the patients were in triage and no details were released on their condition.

The Omaha Public Power District reported that nearly 10,000 customers were without power in the Omaha area.

Daniel Fienhold, manager of the Pink Poodle Steakhouse in Crescent, Iowa, said he was outside watching the weather with his daughter and restaurant employees. He said "it looked like a pretty big tornado was forming" northeast of town.

"It started raining, and then it started hailing, and then all the clouds started to kind of swirl and come together, and as soon as the wind started to pick up, that's when I headed for the basement, but we never saw it," Fienhold said.

The Weather Service also issued tornado watches across parts of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. And forecasters warned that large hail and damaging wind gusts were possible.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]